Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 2 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Sarah cringed back from him, fear clear in her eyes. "You… you're not real. I'm dreaming! You're a dream!"

"Oh, Sarah," he replied, a hint of scornful laughter in his voice, "is that what you've believed, all these years?" He raised his hand, with a flick of fingers, and it held a crystal ball. "Did you forget? I am the master of dreams."

"I dreamed you. I made it up! The whole Labyrinth; every single thing in there was from my bedroom." She'd catalogued it back when she'd moved out. From the bookend Hoggle to the Escher print, every major player in her dream had its analog in her bedroom, as either a doll or a picture. She even had a Labyrinth puzzle, though she'd never been very good at rolling the marbles around.

"Everything but one, Sarah." He regarded her coolly. "Where, in your room, was I?"

"I…. You look like a figurine, on my desk." She paused. "And you're in the book." She looked at the small red volume where it lay on her pillow.

"Am I really?" He stepped towards her, arching one eyebrow. His hand flicked again and the crystal was gone. She backed up quickly, putting her back to the wall behind her bed.

"Yes." She took a shaky breath. "I lived out the story in my dream. My dream just… fleshed it out a little. Cast my figurine in that role." She straightened, shook her head. "I must have fallen asleep reading."

"I am familiar with the book," he said sharply. His fingers flicked again, this time in contempt. "The Goblin King has no name; he has no face; he has little to say beyond the opening challenge. Am I truly as simple as that, Sarah? Am I a foe so easily vanquished?"

Her eyes flashed. "A piece of cake," she snapped, and his eyes narrowed dangerously. "In the end, it was just like the story…." She trailed off. It hadn't been just like the story. In the story, the Goblin King was silent in defeat, but she remembered…. Fear me, love me, and I will be your slave. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. She pulled herself together. "And the figurine?"

"A triviality," he answered. "Did it have personality? Was it more than a holder for a pretty costume?"

"You wore that coat."

"It amused me." His eyes flashed with fire. "There was more to your experience than the book, Sarah. There was more to your friends than you believed. There is more to me than you have ever dreamed." His eyes bored into her, but his angry voice turned soft: "There is more to you than you have ever imagined."

"More to… more to me?"

A crystal was in his hands again. "This is not a gift for an ordinary girl who takes care of a screaming baby." He spoke with the dry tone of years ago; the crystal rolled back and forth across his hands with the same mesmerizing precision. "Do you want it?"

She closed her eyes in sudden pain. "I don't have dreams." She looked away, ashamed of the tears behind her eyelids. "Not anymore."

"Sarah…." Was that pain in his voice? She had to look at him again, but she could read nothing in his face. "You still have dreams, though perhaps you have forgotten. But perhaps… an old one, to begin." He extended the crystal.

"What's the price?" He said nothing, only looked at her. "There's always a price."

"Two things. First, that you tell me what you think and feel about this dream; and second, that after you have done so, you will answer the question I will ask you. You must do both honestly, and without reserve. I will know if you lie, or speak less than the full truth."

"Words, I can handle." She paused. "What do I do?"

"Take it."

She had expected the dream of the ballroom, the music, the seductive dance, the whispered promise. Instead, she found herself walking through the shimmering forest that lay between the Bog and the Goblin City, with all of her friends around her. Dreaming, she shed the boxes she'd placed them in, and remembered them as they had been.

She looked at Hoggle, and remembered how she'd felt when he came back from her and rescued her from the Fire Gang. Profound gratitude, security, happiness—and it didn't matter that he'd done it in some measure out of fear of his King, didn't matter that he'd eventually given in and given her the peach, because she also remembered the way he'd come running over the battlements to leap onto the head of the enormous Guardian of the Gate, saving them all. He was only a person, with weaknesses—"a coward," in his own words—but in the end he'd come through. He was knowledgeable and clever in his own way, and though he tried to hide it, kind. I don't promise nothin', but I'll take you as far as I can.

Turning her eyes to Ludo, she remembered the great beast's kind gaze, his surprising insights and strange understanding. She had run towards him instead of away, and she had found her courage rewarded in his solid loyalty. If he hadn't been able to call the rocks, she would have been captured or killed by the army of goblins sent against her in those last crucial minutes. And even before that, she might have given up out of loneliness, without him beside her, to give her comfort and make her laugh. She remembered how he'd looked with the door knocker in his mouth, and smiled fondly. Sawah friend.

And finally, Sir Didymus, racing away ahead of them on his "noble steed." The silly fox had enchanted her with his chivalry and his speech, and his encouragement had given her courage in return, in spite of the fact that it sometimes led to recklessness. He was one who believed in stories, just as she had, and because he believed, he could bolster her belief when it weakened. Though the stunned look he'd given her when she'd asked permission to cross his bridge never failed to make her laugh, it was his last words to her in the Throne Room that had given her the strength to go forward. If that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it.

She felt warm, safe, at peace with herself. It was similar to how she felt when she understood something that would help one of the children she worked with under her program's supervision, but it felt truer, like her work was close but not exactly designed to give her this feeling of contentment. She didn't have close friends, really. Sometimes people came to her for advice and they were close for a time, but it was more about the other person needing her, than the reverse. Only in the Labyrinth had she felt that there were people who valued her for herself, and not for what she could give them. There were ways in which she had helped them, of course; in addition to freeing Ludo, she rather thought she'd helped Hoggle find some courage and Didymus find some purpose. But her need, her quest, had been paramount.

She had ascribed the friends she found in the Labyrinth to her loneliness, but she had thought it only the loneliness of a child who was too spoiled to ask instead of demand and too much a dreamer to see what was in front of her. Those were things she thought she'd gotten past as she grew up, and it was true that at least, today, she appreciated her acquaintance and wanted to encourage closer friendship. However, the more friends pulled away, for good reasons or not, the harder it got to take a risk. Even Ben had pursued her, at first; she didn't know how to be the pursuer, rather than the pursued. In the Labyrinth dream, she'd known how to make friends easily, but somewhere not long after, that ease of trust had deserted her. No one in her life loved her as unconditionally as those three had loved her; no one had ever asked so little back.

And ah, there was the ache, that familiar pain. In the end, everyone left her. In the end, she couldn't keep them. In the end, she was alone. Was it any wonder she had convinced herself it was a dream? No one really loved like that.

She came, blinking, back to reality, to find his eyes upon her.


Her mouth opened, but she found she couldn't speak. The dream touched on every aspect of her most private thoughts: her stepmother's coldness, her father's distance, and her mother's abandonment… as a romantic teenager, she'd worshipped her mother from afar, but years without contact had dulled the ardor into an aching pain. And lastly, Ben. Kind, loveable, happy, friendly Ben, who made her laugh and listened to her and let her listen to him and though the sex wasn't as mind-blowing as a romance novel it was the best she'd known and those were made up anyway… he was gone as well. She was a "great girl," but he couldn't stay. Even he didn't want her anymore.

The Goblin King's eyes were on her, coldness settling into his gaze as her silence stretched. She felt pierced to the core, exposed, and even if he was flesh the man before her was the cold reality, not the warm comfort that she'd imagined after other heartbreaks. This man was not her friend, and he was asking for the key to her soul. Words, I can handle. Should've known better than to make a deal with him.

"You owe me a debt. You agreed to the price."

"Is there… is there anything else?"

"You agreed to the bargain. It is unwise to trifle with me." Had the shadows grown deeper behind him?

"Do… do you know what I saw?"

"I do."

No way out. Say it fast. It hurts less when you do it quickly. Like a Band-Aid.

"The friends I made, in your Labyrinth… I've never had friends like that, before or since." She bit her lip. "It… it reminded me of how, in my life anyway, everyone always… leaves." There. That was honest, and didn't leave anything out, even if it wasn't very elaborate. He regarded her impassively. "What… what did you want to ask me?"

"Sarah…." He took a step forward, and she blinked, and suddenly he looked human, dressed in an expensive-looking tailored suit and flesh-colored gloves so fitted she almost thought his hands were bare. One hand was extended as though he would offer another crystal. "Would you do me the honor of dining with me, tomorrow evening?"

Two seconds passed in staring silence, and then she gave up and collapsed into laughter. She couldn't help it. This had to be the most bizarre dream she had ever dreamed—it knocked that Labyrinth business clear out of the ballpark. The Goblin King was asking for a date? She had no words, just a cramp in her stomach and tears flowing down her face. She hiccoughed, trying to get herself under control, and looked at him. He hadn't moved, which argued for him being a dream, really. A real man would be offended.

"This is one hell of a dream, you know that?"

"If it is only a dream, why not accept?" It was almost a dare.

"That's seriously your question? 'Sarah, have dinner with me?'" He was silent. "Not, 'Sarah, what do you want most?' or 'Sarah, do you know how much I hate you?' or 'Sarah, what's your most painful memory?' or 'Sarah, what is your darkest secret?' You could have asked anything and you ask thatAfter you make me tell you something so private as how I felt about the dream? You don't want to offer a challenge to another game, or make the offer of another bargain? I am never going to be able to tell any of my advisors about this or I will end up a study participant instead of running the show. It's not even a trap. You didn't ask if I want to dine with you, you asked if I would, so I can absolutelychoose, even if my choice and my desire are not the same. So you know what? Fine. Let's have dinner, Goblin King, because this just isn't going to get any stranger. Or," she paused, "going with my first hypothesis, my subconscious is letting me off the hook for something. Damned if I know what."

"How little you know," he said softly. "May you have pleasant dreams." And just like that, he was gone.

Sleep released her only slowly. She surfaced as though rising up from deep water, every limb relaxed, every thought drifting. Had she been dreaming? She could feel the warm sun, shining in from the open window; yawning, she stretched, rolled her neck, opened her eyes. The angle of the sun suggested late morning. Well. Time to get up, then.

It was easier, today. Yesterday, waking from a night of broken dreams and tears, she'd been too distraught to do more than flee from the pain. Today, she could handle it. The grief wasn't gone, but some switch had been flicked, and it was manageable. She purposely didn't think about the other times that had happened. She ate, washed the dishes in her sink, put away the mail, paid her bills, then, inspired, attacked the house as a whole: dusting, the vacuum, bleach and scrubbed floors. She rearranged the furniture: bookshelves expanded to cover the space left by Ben's desk; shifting the couch only a little covered for the hole left by his chair. She removed the mementos of their time together: photographs came off the wall, the radio was programmed away from his favorite station, the crimson scarf he'd bought her on their last vacation went into a bag for Goodwill.

The bedroom beckoned. She'd removed him from every part of the rest of the apartment, and now she did the same to the room they'd shared. She spread her clothes out between both closets, and then centered her chest of drawers along the wall where once two had stood side by side. A few stuffed animals, carnival winnings, joined the scarf in the Goodwill bag, as did the less expensive jewelry. The nicer stuff piled into a separate box, destined for the pawn shop. Finally, she turned to the bed. Leaning close, she could smell his cologne; she'd need to wash everything.

The little red book was still sitting on her pillow, its ribbon bookmark, as always, tucked into the page with that final monologue. Had she fallen asleep reading it? Or did she remember… was there something? She tucked the book into her nightstand, feeling a strange sort of déjà vu; she'd done that so often, as a child. She pulled the pillows off, one by one, separating the covers into a separate basket for washing, then turned and ripped all the blankets free at once, piling them into the basket.

Thunk. Something fell to the floor, hard, in the middle of her motion; it had been in the bedclothes. Startled, she knelt, and there, under the bed now, lay a crystal, perfectly round and clear as glass. No.

No no no. This wasn't happening. Yet there it sat, so innocent, so terrifying: the dream. Slowly, she extended her hand, then, half flinching away as though it might bite, or explode, she touched it tentatively with one finger.

The dream washed over her again. It was less intense, this time; she could still see the dust bunny near the headboard and the boxes of cold-weather clothes under the bed, but she could also see Hoggle and Ludo and Didymus, could still feel that warm friendship glow. When it ended, she drew slowly back, remembering.

The Goblin King. In her room. Taunting her, offering the dream, asking her to dinner, accepting her laughing response without taking offense. Her own eventual agreement. How had she forgotten? It felt like a dream… it felt like the Labyrinth dream.

Oh. Not a dream, after all. Real, from first to last, all of it, from the parts she'd been afraid to remember to those she could never forget. She picked up the crystal and stood to tuck it into her nightstand next to the book, then dropped abruptly onto the naked mattress, her legs giving out as she thought through the implications. One implication was obvious, present, and paramount.

She'd agreed. She'd agreed to a date with the Goblin King. And it was very unwise not to follow through, once you and he had made an agreement.

It was 5:30 now. He hadn't given her a time. Mechanically, she stood, retrieved spare sheets and blankets, and made the bed. Laundry would have to wait for another day. She showered, dried her hair, and applied makeup, all without letting herself think about why or who she was doing it for. He hadn't said where they'd be going; she chose a simple, knee-length black dress, dressed it up with a gold locket, her mother's gift, found her grey wrap, and moved her essentials into her little black clutch. At 6:45, as she was closing the clasp on her second earring, the doorbell rang.

Come on, feet.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 2 of 24

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